The Detroit auto show, this year, had a beautiful display of cars and trucks. The colors and lights were dazzling and the models were gorgeous. If it wasn't for the big snow storm that hit Detroit just before the show was about to open, it would have, I'm sure, broken all records.
The show puts its focus on styling and interior design - what most people look at when they judge cars.
Because you can't judge a book by its cover, I've been asking myself: What are you really getting in a car if you look beyond all this glitz and glamour?
I started by looking at $30,000 cars. They had everything a customer could want: leather interiors, heated seats with memory, overhead consoles, etc. I then compared them to cars in the $50,000 price range. I did not include any exotic cars priced at more than $100,000. I wanted to find out what a $50,000 car had that you couldn't find in a $30,000 car: What's in that extra $20,000?
Let's begin with the exterior. I know for one thing, being an old stamping man, that the dies that form the sheetmetal cost the same whether the car cost $30,000 or $50,000. The same goes for the presses that make the stampings.
The workers that make $30,000 cars are paid the same wages as those who make a $50,000 car. The more expensive car may have leather seats vs. synthetic leather, but that will likely only make up a difference of a few hundred dollar.
The drivetrain would be basically the same for both cars, and with the possible exception of a few minor bells and whistles, there would be no difference in the warranty.
I have a friend that has a $50,000 car with a heated steering wheel, which you probably can't get in a $30,000 car. He thinks it's the "Nuts" because he can drive all winter without gloves or a coat. Personally, it would make more sense, to me, to buy a $30 pair of gloves than to pay $20,000 more for a car that had this feature.
When it was all said and done I could not see where the differences are that justify the added price. It might be that the service is better or maybe it's the prestige of a luxurious showroom and the high-class salesmen that go with buying an expensive car. If it's prestige that you're looking for I would think it would be cheaper and make more sense to buy $20 cigars.
What I was hoping to find in more expensive cars were things that would help the environment (lower emissions, for example) or enhanced safety features. Cadillac's Evoq concept was the only car I saw that had some of the features I'm talking about.
If I were a consumer I would expect some real added value for the extra money you have to pay for a luxury car. For example: I would expect to find a speed control that would slow the car down automatically if I get too close to another car. Or how about radar for front, rear and side protection, and bumpers that are more crash resistant? And let's not make them like cars of today where even a slight collision ends up producing a repair bill cossting thousands of dollars.
Electric and the so-called hybrid cars eventually may have the desired effect on the environment. But at the current pace of development - and if you consider all the things that must support such a change - it would take many years before these types of cars would have any kind of impact.
It would be much more realistic to accommodate our current infrastructure and focus on developing the necessary technology so our current cars could surpass even the most stringent government emission requirements.
I believe it's possible. Look at the progress that has been made in the last 10 years: Emissions have been reduced to levels that were considered impossible at the time; at the same time, gas mileage has almost doubled in some models.
I think it's more realistic to think of achieving our goals and still use the fuels we use today.
People should be telling the car companies to forget about all the glitz and glamour and focus on developing the required technology to improve emissions and safety on our present cars using our present fuels. o- Stephan Sharf is a former executive vice president for manufacturing atCorp.